School Siting and Transportation

Yesterday’s Oregonian included a cover story on the pressures to find sufficiently large sites for new schools in growing districts.

The story included an aerial photo of the 64-acre Tualatin High School and the presented the debate for small school sites versus the current pattern of very large sites with playing fields, parking, etc.

There is no question that as a fan of compact development, I’d rather see smaller sites – every school I ever attended had at least two stories – located in neighborhoods rather than on the periphery.

What I was most struck by in the story was the amount of space on the Tualatin site devoted to parking. There is now an assumption that high school juniors and seniors are going to drive themselves to school. I can’t help contrast this to our recent experience in the Netherlands, where we learned that students cannot get a driver’s license before they are 18. They have the option for getting a license for a low-power scooter at 16. How much of the land in Tualatin could we save if that parking were replaced by bicycle and scooter parking?

11 responses to “School Siting and Transportation”

  1. When I went to high school in suburban Eugene in the early 80s (North Eugene HS) there were a lot of kids starting to ride scooters (Honda scooters had just come out) and a lot more that rode motorcycles. There was a whole row of motorcycles out front every day. Of course kids also drove cars, but bikes were still the biggest mode of transport. This was in an established suburban area with a decent street grid and lots of bike paths and bike lanes.

    But is Tualatin and other metro area high schools in similar settings and can one safely get there by scooter? Or will you end up with a lot of squashed 16 year old students who get mowed down by big SUVs on the highways? I don’t know the Tualatin area enough to judge.

    Frankly, instead of charging kids to play sports and other nonsense like that, perhaps we ought to start charging kids to park at high schools. Schools are suffering enough in this state, why are they subsidizing parking? Start charging $10/day to park at school and you’ll soon see alternative modes of transport develop (along with a lot of kids parking in the surrounding neighborhoods I suspect so that would need to be dealt with).

  2. You ask:
    How much of the land in Tualatin could we save if that parking were replaced by bicycle and scooter parking?

    Why do we have to save land? The only reason it is scarce in the first place is because of the misguided land use policies that create artificial shortages.

    Oregon is blessed with 17 million acres of undeveloped land, yet you whine about a parking lot.

  3. That is a good idea Kent. It is crazy to me that schools spend so much money on free parking for kids who are most likely fairly wealthy, when they then charge everyone for playing sports.

    Heck, if they wanted to save some money perhaps they could make a deal with students where they don’t have to take gym class if they bike to and from school (or play a sport). That’d be cool.

  4. I had a car my senior year in high school (1996), and my parents were by no means rich. However, I’d gotten good grades all throughout school and had never gotten in trouble. As such, this was their present to me for doing so.

    You did have to pay to park, though. Every student had to buy a parking pass in order to park on campus. This money paid for the upkeep of the lot. At our district there was very little off campus parking. As such, unless you were lucky enough to grab one of the 15 or so available off-campus spots, you needed that parking permit. Tickets were issued along with a fine.

    Many high schoolers use cars to go to school because they have jobs that they go to directly after school. I did and my parents quickly got tired of coming to pick me up in order to get me to work.

    I only had to go to school a half day since I had more than enough credits to graduate. I left school at the beginning of the lunch period. My parents would pick me up, they’d drive home while I ate lunch in the car, I’d drop mom or dad off at the house, and then drive to my work (which was about a quarter mile from the high school). Since I worked as a reporter and had to have a vehicle, I couldn’t just walk to work and do without a vehicle– you can’t exactly walk to get to a breaking story in a town 20 miles away.

    That job paid for my cap and gown, books for the college course I took that summer, and a few months of rent at my apartment– the university I went to had limited dorms available and was too far away to live at home. It wasn’t just a job so I could buy CDs and go to the movies.

    Others may run errands for their parents after school, such as taking siblings to soccer practice, picking up siblings from band practice, etc.

    Not everyone lives within a distance where it is feasible to bike/walk to school. Sure it is healthier for you, but unless you live close or are already in somewhat good shape, it’s not going to work. What’s a kid going to do– leave at 4 a.m. just to get to school?

    What’s the other options?

    Scooters? You won’t see many parents agreeing to that one. Unlike other countries, drivers ed teachers you to drive a car and not a scooter. As such, parents aren’t going to feel all that safe with their kids on a scooter, even if it is low powered– especially since they have to share the road with cars.

    Them riding the school bus? That’ll cost the district money, as they have the obligation to pick up students who live more than a mile from the campus. They’ll need more buses and more drivers.

    I don’t think that taking away parking from students is the answer. Maybe they should look at upping the price of a parking permit and creating a parking structure as opposed to lots (the way many universities do). That’ll allow for a greater number of cars in a smaller area.

  5. “That’ll cost the district money, as they have the obligation to pick up students who live more than a mile from the campus. They’ll need more buses and more drivers.”

    This is true anyway for any kids that don’t have a car. While some high school students need an auto, most don’t. Its more a status/preference to drive to school rather than use the bus. I agree on the scooters, they are actually a lot less safe than bikes. It would be like trying to share the lane on a 45 mph suburban arterial. A fender-bender is likely to be fatal.

  6. It was interesting listening to the superintendent of Gresham/Barlow during the City Council Meeting for the Springwater Concept Plan vote in September. The amount of space he and the school district describes as necessary for a elementary, middle school, and high school are pretty much set in stone.

    Springwater is pretty hilly in the area that isn’t going to be zoned for Industrial land (High Tech. and High Employment areas) so the issues is where to put a school(s) in the Southwest corner.

    Gresham/Barlow is also expecting to buy land in Damascus for schools (including one large high school). I hope they use this train of thought and don’t assume that one parking space for every senior and single story buildings are the only way.


  7. Schools used to be located at the center of communities…along with a small park, library, civic buildings, post office and essential retail…so everyday as each of us went about our business we crossed paths, met for a quick chat, encountered the entire demographic of the community.
    In SW Portland’s Multnomah before it was destroyed as a small village by Washington Square in the 70’s we had all this. I delivered the morning paper to my 1st grade teacher who knew my Mom, the librarian. To accommodate the auto everything has been moved to the edge where land is cheap and parking plentiful…at a cost that cannot be measured.

  8. Ross,

    Portland doesn’t provide bus transportation to high school. Not sure what other districts do. In Portland, it’s not a choice, driving is almost a necessity (transit is oriented to get kids quickly from their neighborhoods to the schools).

    Tualatin HS is getting a bad rap here. That large area abuts nature areas and the open space is widely used by dog walkers, runners, and recreational sports teams.

    It’s elitist to claim that the kids are “likely fairly wealthy”. Have you been to Tualatin? The housing around the school is modest, in the 175-250k range. Many folks live that far out because they can’t afford closer in areas.

  9. RE: single story schools

    I agree that single story schools are a waste. My junior high was two-story and didn’t even have an elevator. There were 2 sets of stairs and between classes, at the start of the day, and the end of the day it was impossible to get up/down those stairs.

    The new high school they built just 5 years ago is also multi-stories: I think it may be 3, but it is definitely at least two. They added an elevator that can be used by those who need it. Since I moved away right before it opened, I’m not sure how they keep all the students from packing into it.

    Building up allows you to have a bigger school on a smaller piece of property. The h.s. I mentioned above also had its football stadium right there, so they didn’t have to build two different parking lots on two pieces of property. The school and stadium share a huge parking lot between the two. That allows for plenty of staff and student parking during the day and event parking at night.

    I don’t think people understand how many juniors/seniors do indeed need their cars. A vast number of high school students work jobs that are not necessarily close to their school/home. And not everyone has bus routes that are that accessible. Some may have to walk quite a distance to get to the closest bus stop, and that may only be a commuter route which will have stopped running before they get off work. Some may not live anywhere near a bus stop, or their work may not be anywhere near a bus stop.

  10. Can’t help myself on this one. Once upon a time I was a high school teacher. I had a problem with students falling asleep in class (no, I was not THAT boring). I asked some of these students why they didn’t get enough sleep? They answered, Because they had to work. I asked, Why do you have to work so much? They answered, To pay for their car. I asked, Why do you have a car? They answered, To get to work!

    I don’t have data on this and so can’t really answer but the parking problem is similar at well located, transit served, schools in walkable neighborhoods (like Grant, Lincoln, Marshall HS in Portland) For some strange reason, the school district provides student parking at these schools (not very much at Lincoln) as well as teacher parking. But is there covered, secure bicycle parking?? Does the school district provide transit passes?

    Schools are way behind the TDM curve. In addition, the use of scarce school land for parking is really a major waste. Think of the other uses: housing for new teachers, many of whom can’t afford to live in the district they are employed in; parkland; more school buildings; maybe even commercial/industrial buildings where students could work or do internships!

    Another example of an antiquated model of one-size-fits-all and huge public subsidies (taxes) to avoid having to make choices or be innovative.

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